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The Development and Reconstruction of the City Center of Beirut
Lebanon

Keyword: Economic Development

Background

The project makes possible the reconstruction of the heart of the city of Beirut devastated by the war that plagued Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. Its infrastructure was totally destroyed and its nearly 900 buildings severely damaged. In addition, a huge environmental problem had been created on the city center's coastline as it was transformed into a dumping site extending over 250,000 square meters and 14 meter high. Complex legal property entanglements and an exhausted national treasury meant that Beirut was unlikely to see its center rebuilt within a foreseeable time. However, the city center, home all to all of Lebanon's communities, represented the heart of the divided city and its reconstruction was essential to the post-war healing process.

By associating owners, tenants and investors, a private company was created with nearly 100,000 shareholders able to address urban and financial problems in a comprehensive way, allowing Beirut to flourish again.


Narrative

The project for the development and reconstruction of the city center of Beirut has made possible the optimization of an area of the Lebanese capital ravaged by war, transforming a desolate district into what many Lebanese believe is likely to become the region's future hub. This has had a tremendous impact on the national mood, encouraging investment and creating thousands of new jobs both directly and indirectly. By associating nearly 100,000 people as shareholders, the project has revolutionized business practices in Lebanon, normally closely associated with family operations. The large shareholders base means that a significant part of the Lebanese population is directly involved in the reconstruction process, with a direct stake in its success.

At the end of the war, in 1990, Lebanon was faced with a massive reconstruction program estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. The government was also confronted with a long list of priorities, one among many was the development and reconstruction of the Central District of Beirut. This was an area fiercely fought over during the war because of what it represents to the Lebanese. The Central District of Beirut houses Parliament and a number of ministries, the Municipality, the Central Post Office, the traditional banking district and the city's most celebrated public squares and houses of worship. It is also of particular significance to the city because, in contrast to other districts in the divided city, it was traditionally home to all of Lebanon's communities. Its revival was critical to the healing process necessary to consolidate the peace.

However, the obstacles to its reconstruction were many and, in some cases, seemingly insurmountable:
1.- The amount of destruction was momentous. For nearly 16 years the central district was battered by gun fire, so that when peace finally came the infrastructure was totally destroyed and the 900-odd buildings severely damaged, most of them beyond reasoanable repair.
2.- In the absence of an alternative, a dumping site was created on the sea front at one of the extremities of the central district. Nearly 70 percent of this site consisted of organic waste from households. Totally untreated, the site advanced into the sea, growing to 250,000 square meters and 14 meters from sea level. It became the major pollutant on the Eastern Mediterranean. Any reconstruction project would have to deal with this massive garbage mass.
3.- By conservative estimates, over 80,000 people lay claim -- as owners and tenants -- to the 900-odd buildings in the city center. Obtaining agreement from even a few hundred people on how to rebuild one single building is a complex if not impossible task. People have different views, interests and resources, some may be uninterested, or unavailable, having set residence abroad. The city center of a capital holds national significance, and its reconstruction could not be left in abeyance, dependant on so many people, most of them unable to meet or decide.
4.- Following 16 years of war, Lebanon in 1990 was financially exhausted and the government would have been unable to embark on the reconstruction or the rehabilitation of the central district in line with the potential the district represented. The post-war government faced a long list of priorities in such areas as infrastructure, education, social needs, institutional restructuring, relocation of hundreds of thousands of refugees, reconstruction of villages, schools, and hospitals, and the many other necessities resulting from a long and cruel war.
However, as long as Beirutis had to drive through a battered and desolate central district, few could be asked to believe that their country was on the road to recoveryn and that the war years were over. Convincing the powerful Lebanese disapora of the return of peace was also essential to the rebuilding of the country.
The central district, a unique district in that it represents the heart of the city of Beirut and is home to all of the country's communities was severely missed by the Lebanese at home or abroad.

The formula developed, which resulted in the creation of the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District (SOLIDERE), was to associate property right holders in the central district (proprietors, tenants and lease-holders) and investors in a joint-stock corporation that would be charged with the development and reconstruction of the city center. The majority shareholders would be the property right holders (two-thirds of capital) and the investors (one third of capital) would offer the cash component to make sure the project moved forward.

A subscription offer for US$650 million (6.5 million shares of US$100 each) was made from October 10, 1993 to January 10, 1994. The offer, which drew almost US$1 billion in applications, resulted in the association of nearly 20,000 Lebanese investors in the project.

In accordance with an officially-developed and approved Master Plan that defines zoning, massing, the preservations of archeological finds, architectural monuments and other aspects of the city's heritage, the city center of Beirut is being developed and rebuilt by a private-sector company belonging to 100,000 people. The comprehensive approach to reconstruction has allowed for:
- the optimization of the assets of the city center;
- the treatment of the dump site by integrating it into a land development process,
- a broadly based approach to archeological excavations (hundreds of archeologists and assistants working on site)
- and the ability to address major urban concerns in a broadly planified way.

All of this is being done at no expense at all to the government. SOLIDERE is executing and financing the entire top-of-the line infrastructure for the whole 2 million square meters of land, inluding the expansion and treatment of the landfill. In turn, it will receive development land on the landfill.

SOLIDERE's main function will be, in fact, to install the entire infrastructure, treat and expand the landfill, build sea defense lines, restore the 265 preserved buildings, develop about 20 percent of the land and offer lots for development. By providing an answer to the problems posed by the development and reconstruction of the central district, SOLIDERE has encouraged substantial cpaital inflows into the country, created directly and indirectly thousands of jobs, made possible the quality reconstruction of Beirut's city center and thus provided Lebanon with an opportunity to reclaim its traditional regional role as a financial, commercial and tourist center. This is of vital importance for a country heavily dependant on a service economy. The success of the company will mean the success of ther reconstruction project, to the benefit of Lebanon and its 100,000 shareholders.


Impact

Reconstruction of a desperately desolate city center
Eradication of 250,000 square meter garbage dump
Transformation of garbage dump into a gracious seaside
Restoration of nearly 300 architecturally significant blds
5,000 direct jobs, tens of thousands more indirectly
Allowed for comprehensive archeological excavations
Comprehensive urban planning for the city center of Beirut
Revived stagnant and morassed economy of a city center
Democratized business practices by associating 100,000 people in a private sector venture
Focused local and international attention on rebuilding\
Created a company large enough to afford international standards of operations and magament
Gave the Lebanese a long-lost sense of pride in their city


Sustainability

Lebanese urban legislation was set back by the war; however the quality-conscious reconstruction of the central district addresses issue which had remained totally unattended for 20 years. These related to areas such as safety (including fire and earthquakes), ramps for the handicapped, public spaces, green areas, service streets, transport accessibilities, massing, and aesthetics. By stimulating interest in urban issues, SOLIDERE contributed to the modernization of rules and regulations governing urban development. In fact, it was at SOLIDERE's urging that many new legal decisions on improved urban life were made.
The international and local attention which the reconstruction project has drawn, has ensured a reater transparency for all operations being carried out in the city center. This has impacted positively on the way archeological and architectural treasures have been treated. Nearly 400 archeologists, under the supervision of the Directorate General of Antiquties and UNESCO, have workd on excavting the many sites. This kind of international attention would not have been possible if reconstruction had developed piece meal. The meticulous preservation of heritage has also been attended to in architecture where 265 buildings, in addition to houses of worship and government buildings, will be restored to maintain their original facades.
In the area of environment improvement, the reconstruction approach has enabled the city of Beirut to deal with a major pollutant -- a 250,000 square meter garbage dump -- and transform it into an agreeable sea coast, with sandy beaches, two tourist marinas, a sea side promenade and a 80,000 square meter public park, the largest in the heart of Beirut.
In terms of employement, Bovis International has estimated that direct employment on infrastructure works alone will result in 5,000 jobs in the city center. The impact on the economy as a whole and the creation of employement has been considerable.
The SOLIDERE example is worth serious consideration in any urban area in need of revitalization, where problems exist similar to those facing Beirut in 1990. While in Lebanon these were problems resulting largely from war, the issues involved are also relevant to areas depressed because of demographic, cyclical developments, poor planning or other reasons. In many such cases, the concept of a private company -- under careful public scrutinity -- bringing together property right holders and investors to improve and optimize the positive features of an urban setting deserves serious consideration. In Beirut, under very difficult circumstances, it has proved very successful and very positive for the entire country.


Contact

    SOLIDERE
    Riad Al Solh Street
    Beirut
    Lebanon
    P.O.Box 119493
    961-1-646-120/1/2/3

Sponsor

    SOLIDERE, the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Bt
    SOLIDERE
    Riad Al Solh Street
    Beirut
    Lebanon
    P.O.Box 119493
    961-1-646-120/1/2/3

Partners

    The Lebanese Government
    Maluf, Ramez
    Riad Al Solh (Arab Bank Bld. 2nd floor)
    Beirut
    Lebanon
    P.O.Box 119493
    961-1-646-120/1/2

    The Beirut Municipality
    Jaroudi, Ahmad
    Riad Al Solh Street (Arab Bank Bld. 2nd)
    Beirut
    Lebanon
    961-1-646-120


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